Would you know that American manufacturing continues to grow?
It does as even some local area manufacturing facilities continue to add jobs and processes to keep themselves going. It's just that job creation isn't fueling that growth in manufacturing.
Adam Davidson writes in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine about how one company has continued on and has grown while its workforce had undergone a drastic change. Entitled "Making It in America" basically the article says that if you're not educated you won't make it much longer in manufacturing.
As Davidson points out, the days an untrained worker could start at a manufacturing plant and then learn the workings of a machine to the point of proficiency and move up the line are pretty much over -- the machine up the line is likely computerized and the person operating it is a skilled worker with training often garnered in a two-year or four-year technical or college setting.
Davidson took a look at Standard Motor Products which produces after-market auto parts. He specifically looked at the firm's Greenville, S.C., plant where Madelyn "Maddie" Parlier worked in the unskilled area and Luke Hutchins worked as a skilled laborer. Maddie put two pieces of a fuel injector together and they were then welded. Luke ran the computerized machine that made the critical injector part with tolerances so fine only a computerized machine can make it.
Luke has some college behind him giving him a step up to run the machine valued at a half-million dollars. Maddie needs no such skills to do her job which she does incredibly well -- but you can learn it in just minutes and be proficient in no time.
It's obvious that education -- as has always been true in some respects -- is a necessary commodity for even the most basic job seekers.
Manufacturers were part of that education process for years -- they would take a high school grad (or less) and basically train them on the line and they could move on from there. In today's competitive world where stockholders demand some return on their investment and foreign companies offer up cheaper labor on many products, that just can't happen.
A college education has been the ticket for people to reach the middle class life in America for decades and it remains so today. For the rest, there's not a rung there that puts them on that first step if they don't have an education beyond high school.
Here in the United States we've not sorted out students as they make their way through school into those who are suited for college and those who should explore technical areas where they may have a better chance of success.
Even though I took "college prep" classes at good old Harbor Springs High, it was more of an IF you're going to college you need these classes rather than you've been identified as someone who should go to college and must take these classes.
For the students not on the "college prep" track there wasn't much, as I recall, in the line of coursework to prepare them for jobs that were more than sweat and muscle but less than college education needed.
Sure, if you went to the guidance counselor you might get some idea of what you could do for a job but was the opportunity there to study enough to advance in that area?
Lack of education and focus isn't simply producing a whole group of people who will not get ahead in society, but it is making it difficult for manufacturers to find the people they need with the skills they need when they do need to add jobs. With all the emphasis on education and No Student Left Behind and improving graduation rates, it really doesn't matter unless there's something AFTER graduation that prepares students for a job somewhere in American society.
I'm sure there are programs out there but availability and cost still provide a barrier to "getting a leg up" in society. It's going to be hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don't have a leg to stand on.
Kendall P. Stanley is retired editor of the Petoskey News-Review. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
The new industrial way
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